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Interview with Black Mountain Games

The CMP Game Group (producer of Game Developer magazine, Gamasutra.com, and the Game Developers Conference) established the Independent Games Festival in 1998 to encourage innovation in game development and to recognize the best independent game developers. They saw how the Sundance Film Festival benefited the independent film community, and wanted to create a similar event for independent game developers as well as the student population of game developers.

Dave Brooks from Black Mountain Games was kind enough to respond to my questions via email about their IGF finalist Putt Nutz.

Who are you and what was your role on Putt Nutz?

Dave: My name is David Brooks and I am the lead programmer on Putt Nutz. I am responsible for gameplay coding, AI, shell, and for keeping our cross-platform engine on the cutting edge of PS2, PSP, and PC development.

Congrats on making it into the IGF finals. Is this your first attempt at entering the competition?

Dave: Putt Nutz is our first entry into an IGF competition. We are glad that we entered, and certainly plan on entering again in the future. The IGF competition is a great way for Independent Developers to get exposure for their games.

What made you decide to enter Putt Nutz into the IGF?

Dave: The IGF has become a high profile competition and because of its association with GDC provides an excellent platform for Independent Developers to showcase their productions to Publishers and the gaming community at large. We are honored that Putt Nutz is a finalist!

How do you view this year's competition? Do you think the IGF is heading in the right direction?

Dave: The IGF continues to grow both in number and quality of entries, and nothing could be better for the Independent Game Development community.

How did the idea for Putt Nutz come about?

Dave: We have always wanted to do a Miniature Golf game – it's such a popular and fun social game, and it is completely overlooked by the video game industry. Up until now, nearly all golf games have been slower paced simulations, we wanted to do a fast-paced, console-style, Miniature Golf game. The fact that there are no console Miniature Golf games out there, and that Sports and Golf in particular are so popular led us to believe that we could be successful with Putt Nutz.

How much did the game evolve from its original inception? What drove this evolution?

Dave: The core concept has remained intact since the very beginning – a fast-paced, console-style Miniature Golf game. Our biggest evolutions were probably in the development of the Characters and the story behind Putt Nutz . At first we were thinking about just using text boxes to give players directions and hints. As the game started to come together we realized that a well-developed and fully animated set of characters would round out the experience so much more nicely. Once the characters started to come to life we realized that they needed voices so they could relay information to the player about story progression, hints, and their personality. Our art team was constantly driving this evolution.

Was there a reason for the storyline other than to make it more than just a putt game to play with friends?

Dave: We feel that story is part of every game, just like characters, backgrounds, gameplay, music, etc. The characters support the social aspect of the game.

Were any earlier Mini Golf computer games an inspiration as well?

Dave: We felt we had a clear idea of what we were trying to achieve with Putt Nutz and since there are not any other console miniature golf games on the marketplace we relied on our own creativity and sense of gameplay.

What's your most enjoyable part of the game and how did that feature come about?

Dave: Putt Nutz has lots of collectables and each hole has dozens of ways to play. The most enjoyable part for us is seeing people find new and different ways to play the game and make incredible shots in ways we never designed it to do.

During the development of Putt Nutz , what were some major issues that caused problems and how were they solved?

Dave: As an independent production we had a fixed development budget and had to make smart choices every day about how to go about getting the game done with the modest budget we had. We dealt with this issue by planning very carefully and never second-guessing our execution.

What tools/technology was used for the creation of Putt Nutz ?

Dave: Putt Nutz was developed using 3D Studio Max, Character Studio, Photoshop, and our own proprietary cross-platform engine. The Physics engine is based on an advanced formulation of Lagrangian Dynamics which is ideally suited to 3D games and hardware.

Your nomination is for your visual arts. How did your art team develop the look for the game?

Dave: We knew we wanted a campy art style to support the feel of Miniature Golf. We enlisted the incredible conceptual art work of Eric Browning to flesh out the look with paintings such as this:

Along the way we created comps before we executed, not only for the art look, but also for gameplay. Having a plan on paper and everyone on the same page was critical to being successful.

How much of a challenge is it in interface design thanks to the fact that you have to support a gamepad as well as a keyboard and mouse?

Dave: We always wanted Putt Nutz to be easy to approach by anyone of any age. For all other golf games, a significant part of the gameplay revolves around the swing/putt meter and the player's ability to master this interface element. We wanted the player to be able to use the Putt Meter as a way of easily selecting any shot they want. If the player is not happy with how hard they are going to be hitting the ball they can cancel and re-select at will.

The depth in gameplay and replay-ability in Putt Nutz is derived from the selection of angle and force, timing with moving elements, discovering short-cuts and secret paths, and selection and mastery of the two-dozen collectable balls in the game. We think this is a lot more fun gameplay than mastering a swing meter.

What drew you guys to the Sony console platform?

Dave: We knew we wanted Putt Nutz to be a fast-paced, console-style game to contrast all of the slower-paced golfing simulations on the market today. The best way to ensure this happened was to develop on a console. The commercial availability of the Linux Kit for PlayStation 2 was instrumental in allowing us to build a prototype of our game so we could convince Sony that the game was worthy of being made. After showing them the game at E3 2003 running on the Linux Kit, they agreed, and got us our start. That was one of the more memorable meetings for us, for sure.

How long has Black Mountain Games been around? What's a brief history of the company?

Dave: Black Mountain Games is an independently owned video game development studio founded in December 2002. The studio is located in San Diego, California. Our focus is on creating fun, family friendly games.

Black Mountain Games is a licensed Sony PlayStation 2 developer, and makes games for the Sony PS2, PC/CD-ROM, and Sony PSP utilizing our own proprietary multi-platform game engine technology.

What advice would you give other developers looking to license with Sony?

Dave: We can't speak for Sony, but they always seemed to be interested in the whole picture. Make sure you have a running prototype that clearly demonstrates the unique concepts, a team in place or in mind, and a business plan to back it up.

What's it like being an independent computer games developer  and an independent console games developer?

Dave: We decided early on that we wanted to be cross-platform developers, and the engine we built enables us to do just that.

What's the one thing about the way you develop games that you think helps you do your job best?

Dave: We use rapid prototyping to make sure concepts work before we polish them, and we get people to play Putt Nutz on a regular basis to keep us well grounded.

What's next for you guys?

Dave: We have a lot of ideas, but finding a publisher for Putt Nutz is our sole focus at this point.

Interview conducted by Drew "Gaiiden" Sikora

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